by Erik Ritland
Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
What: Nate Houge and Welaware
Where: Palmer's, 500 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis
When: Friday May 29, 2015
I wouldn’t call Palmer’s a dive bar, but I wouldn’t necessarily not call it one either. Even if I did it’d be a compliment. Let’s just split the difference and call it intimate.
I’ve seen a few neat shows at Cedar Avenue’s little hidden treasure. They don’t have a lot of room to work with, and the stage is pretty small, but they make it work nicely. It’d be cool if they accepted credit cards but a pitcher of Hamms is under $10 so there’s that.
The crowd, as usual, was diverse. I didn’t necessarily feel frightened – even when a group of tough looking guys started arguing loudly with the bouncer – but I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable, either. I could have done without the guys hogging the single stall in the men’s room to do blow, too. True story.
Some honest folk (and rock)
Nate Houge, leader of Welaware, has been a friend of mine for years. He started out playing straight ahead folk with minimal accompaniment (usually just a djembe). Through the years his sound has matured and he now fronts a real, full-fledged rock n’ roll band. His songs are honest, edgy, and sometimes lovingly snarky.
He and the band opened loosely with the upbeat folk/rock of “We Will Not Go.” Its lyrics are a good example of how Nate can write about the world and his Christian faith with intelligence and candor: “no one thinks of justice and sees the government/no one thinks of Jesus when they’re looking in a mirror/wish I could see Jesus when I’m looking in the mirror.” It’s that sort of honesty that makes his writing engaging. The band, crammed onto the small stage, chugged along nicely.
A few songs in they pulled out “Heretics” from Nate’s church-y 2011 album Reform Follows Function. It speaks specifically of his Lutheranism, especially the rebellious nature of Martin Luther (that he does a fine job carrying on): “I'll take no bull, my voice is hoarse/you were nailing your points into the doors/my stance is shaky but my source is strong/where have all the heretics gone?” In a set full of energy it was one of their most lively songs, their conviction coming through in the performance.
The highlight of the night was “Not Like That” from their recent Anchor album. Perhaps Nate’s first all-out rock song, it bristled with energy, especially during the breakdown in the middle when all the members somehow jumped around on the small stage without hurting themselves (or someone else). In a perfect world this song would have been a hit single. That is, in a world that still appreciated rock music at all.
When it's chairs up, time to go
Due to their busy schedules Welaware rarely play shows in the Twin Cities. It’s unfortunate because the band has charming punk rock ethos and Nate’s material deserves to be heard. At the very least check out their album Anchor. Or Oh and Ten, a concept album based loosely on the Ten Commandments that is my favorite release of Nate’s. Except for maybe lo-fi folksterpiece boy.girl but I don’t think that’s available anywhere online. Though I’m sure he has some copies of it in his basement.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.